Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In – The Feminist Wire

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

 By bell hooks

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean InEditors’ Note: Though some of the fanfare surrounding Sheryl Sandberg (of Facebook and Lean In fame) has died down, Sandberg is back with her neoliberal feminism, or what bell hooks describes below as “faux feminism.”  After weeks of traveling the nation hawking books (and thousands upon thousands sold), amid endless celebration, debate, and criticism, Sandberg and her corporate feminism seek to cover even more territory. Sadly, we now know where:  just this week, Sandberg announced her plans to take her Lean In fairytale to college campuses nationwide. At Howard University, she announced her plans for this new initiative, which its website described as follows: “LeanIn.Org will work with students on campuses around the world to change the trajectory for women. Our belief is firm: Your generation holds the hope for a more equal future. Join us.” Below, bell hooks reminds readers why we should be skeptical of this sort of faux feminism— one that does little to re-imagine the world or to build collective movements, but instead works to recreate the same old white heteropatriarchy that defines American Empire. Rather than leaning in, we need to step out. We must critically question, talk across spaces of perceived difference, and build alternatives.–Stephanie Troutman and David J. Leonard

A year ago, few folks were talking about Sheryl Sandberg. Her thoughts on feminism were of little interest. More significantly, there was next-to-no public discussion of feminist thinking and practice. Rarely, if ever, was there any feminist book mentioned as a bestseller and certainly not included on the New York Times Best Seller list. Those of us who have devoted lifetimes to teaching and writing theory, explaining to the world the ins and outs of feminist thinking and practice, have experienced that the primary audience for our work is an academic sub-culture. In recent years, discussions of feminism have not evoked animated passion in audiences. We were far more likely to hear that we are living in a post-feminist society than to hear voices clamoring to learn more about feminism. This seems to have changed with Sandberg’s book Lean In, holding steady on the Times bestseller list for more than sixteen weeks.

No one was more surprised than long-time advocates of feminist thinking and practice to learn via mass media that a new high priestess of feminist movement was on the rise. Suddenly, as if by magic, mass media brought into public consciousness conversations about feminism, reframing the scope and politics through an amazing feat of advertising. At the center of this drama was a young, high-level corporate executive, Sheryl Sandberg, who was dubbed by Oprah Winfrey and other popular culture pundits as “the new voice of revolutionary feminism.” Forbes Magazine proclaimed Sandberg to be one of the most influential women in the world, if not the most. Time Magazine ranked her one of a hundred of the most powerful and influential world leaders. All over mass media, her book Lean In has been lauded as a necessary new feminist manifesto.

Yet Sandberg confesses to readers that she has not been a strong advocate of feminist movement; that like many women of her generation, she hesitated when it came to aligning herself with feminist concerns. She explains:

I headed into college believing that the feminists of the sixties and seventies had done the hard work of achieving equality for my generations.  And yet, if anyone had called me a feminist I would have quickly corrected that notion…. On one hand, I started a group to encourage more women to major in economics and government. On the other hand, I would have denied being in any way, shape, or form a feminist. None of my college friends thought of themselves as feminists either. It saddens me to admit that we did not see the backlash against women around us…. In our defense, my friends and I truly, if naively, believed that the world did not need feminists anymore.

Although Sandberg revised her perspective on feminism, she did not turn towards primary sources (the work of feminist theorists) to broaden her understanding. In her book, she offers a simplistic description of the feminist movement based on women gaining equal rights with men. This construction of simple categories (women and men) was long ago challenged by visionary feminist thinkers, particularly individual black women/women of color. These thinkers insisted that everyone acknowledge and understand the myriad ways race, class, sexuality, and many other aspects of identity and difference made explicit that there was never and is no simple homogenous gendered identity that we could call “women” struggling to be equal with men. In fact, the reality was and is that privileged white women often experience a greater sense of solidarity with men of their same class than with poor white women or women of color.

Sandberg’s definition of feminism begins and ends with the notion that it’s all about gender equality within the existing social system. From this perspective, the structures of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy need not be challenged. And she makes it seem that privileged white men will eagerly choose to extend the benefits of corporate capitalism to white women who have the courage to ‘lean in.’ It almost seems as if Sandberg sees women’s lack of perseverance as more the problem than systemic inequality. Sandberg effectively uses her race and class power and privilege to promote a narrow definition of feminism that obscures and undermines visionary feminist concerns.

Contrast her definition of feminism with the one I offered more than twenty years ago in Feminist Theory From Margin To Center and then again in Feminism Is For Everybody.  Offering a broader definition of feminism, one that does not conjure up a battle between the sexes (i.e. women against men), I state: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” No matter their standpoint, anyone who advocates feminist politics needs to understand the work does not end with the fight for equality of opportunity within the existing patriarchal structure. We must understand that challenging and dismantling patriarchy is at the core of contemporary feminist struggle – this is essential and necessary if women and men are to be truly liberated from outmoded sexist thinking and actions.

Ironically, Sandberg’s work would not have captured the attention of progressives, particularly men, if she had not packaged the message of “lets go forward and work as equals within white male corporate elites” in the wrapping paper of feminism. In the “one hundred most influential people in the world” issue of Time Magazine, the forty-three-year old Facebook COO was dubbed by the doyen of women’s liberation movement Gloria Steinem in her short commentary with the heading “feminism’s new boss.” That same magazine carried a full page ad for the book Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead that carried the heading “Inspire the graduate in your Life” with a graduating picture of two white females and one white male. The ad included this quote from Sandberg’s commencement speech at Barnard College in 2011: “I hope that you have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.” One can only speculate whether running the world is a call to support and perpetuate first world imperialism. This is precisely the type of feel good declaration Sandberg makes that in no way clarifies the embedded agenda she supports.Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

Certainly, her vision of individual women leaning in at the corporate table does not include any clear statements of which group of women she is speaking to and about, and the “lean in” woman is never given a racial identity. If Sandberg had acknowledged that she was primarily addressing privileged white women like herself (a small group working at the top of the corporate hierarchy), then she could not have portrayed herself as sharing a message, indeed a life lesson, for all women. Her basic insistence that gender equality should be important to all women and men is an insight that all folks involved in feminist movement agree is a central agenda. And yes, who can dispute the facts Sandberg offers as evidence; despite the many gains in female freedom, implicit gender bias remains the norm throughout our society. Patriarchy supports and affirms that bias. But Sandberg offers readers no understanding of what men must do to unlearn sexist thinking. At no point In Lean In does she let readers know what would motivate patriarchal white males in a corporate environment to change their belief system or the structures that support gender inequality.

Readers who only skim the surface of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In will find much they can agree with. Very few if any professional women will find themselves at odds with a fellow female who champions the cause gender equality, who shares with us all the good old mother wisdom that one of the most important choices any of us will make in life is who we will partner with. And she shares that the best partner is one who she tells readers will be a helpmeet – one who cares and shares. Sandberg’s insistence that men participate equally in parenting is no new clarion call. From its earliest inception, the feminist movement called attention to the need for males to participate in parenting; it let women and men know that heteronormative relationships where there was gender quality not only lasted but were happier than the sexist norm.

Sandberg encourages women to seek high-level corporate jobs and persevere until they reach the top. For many individual women, Sandberg telling them that they would not be betraying family if they dedicated themselves to work was affirming. It is positive in that it seemed to be a necessary response to popular anti-feminist backlash, which continually suggests that the feminist push to place more women in the workforce was and is a betrayal of marriage and family.

Unfortunately her voice is powerful, yet Sandberg is for the most part not voicing any new ideas. She is simply taking old ideas and giving them a new twist. When the book Lean In began its meteoric rise, which continues to bring fame and notoriety to Sandberg, many prominent feminists and/or progressive women denounced the work, vehemently castigating Sandberg. However, there was just one problematic issue at the core of the anti-Sandberg movement; very few folks attacking the work had actually read the book. Some of them had heard sound bites on television or had listened to her Ted Talk presentation. Still others had seen her interviewed. Many of these older female feminist advocates blatantly denounced the work and boldly announced their refusal to read the book.

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean InAs a feminist cultural critic, I found the eagerness with which Sandberg was viciously attacked disheartening. These critiques seem to emerge from misplaced rage not based solely on contempt for her ideas, but a rage bordering on envy. The powerful white male-dominated mass media was giving her and those ideas so much attention. There was no in-depth discussion of why this was the case. In the book Sandberg reminds readers that, “men still run the world.” However, she does not discuss white male supremacy. Or the extent to which globalization has changed the makeup of corporate elites. In Mark Mizruchi’s book The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite, he describes a corporate world that is made up of a “more diverse crowd,” one that is no longer white and male “blue chip dudes.” He highlights several examples: “The CEO of Coca-Cola is Muhtar Kent, who was born in the United States but raised in Turkey; PepsiCo is run by Indra Nooyi, an Indian woman who came to America in her twenties. Burger King’s CEO is Brazilian, Chryslers’s CEO is Italian, and Morgan Stanley’s CEO is Australian. Forget about influencing policy; many of today’s leading US CEO’s can’t even vote here.” Perhaps, even in the corporate world, imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is ready to accept as many white women as necessary to ensure white dominance. Race is certainly an invisible category in Sandberg’s corporate fantasy world.

Sandberg is most seductive when sharing personal anecdotes. It is these true-life stories that expose the convenient lies underlying most of her assertions that as more women are at the top, all women will benefit. She explains: “Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voice to their needs and concerns.” This unsubstantiated truism is brought to us by a corporate executive who does not recognize the needs of pregnant women until it’s happening to her. Is this a case of narcissism as a potential foundation for female solidarity? No behavior in the real world of women relating to women proves this to be true. In truth, Sandberg offers no strategies for the building of feminist solidarity between women.

She makes light of her ambivalence towards feminism. Even though Sandberg can humorously poke fun at herself and her relationship to feminism, she tells readers that her book “is not a feminist manifesto.” Adding as though she is in a friendly conversation with herself, “okay, it is sort of a feminist manifesto.” This is just one of the “funny” folksy moments in the book, which represent her plain and ordinary approach – she is just one of the girls. Maybe doing the book and talking about it with co-writer Nell Scovell provides the basis for the conversational tone. Good humor aside, cute quips and all, it is when she is taking about feminism that many readers would have liked her to go deeper. How about just explaining what she means by “feminist manifesto,” since the word implies “a full public declaration of intentions, opinions or purposes.” Of course, historically the best feminist manifestos emerged from collective consciousness raising and discussion. They were not the voice of one individual. Instead of creating a space of female solidarity, Sandberg exists as the lone queen amid millions of admires. And no one in her group dares to question how she could be heralded as the “voice of revolutionary feminism.”

How feminist, how revolutionary can a powerful rich woman be when she playfully admits that she concedes all money management and bill paying to her husband? As Sandberg confesses, she would rather not think about money matters when she could be planning little Dora parties for her kids. This anecdote, like many others in the book, works to create the personal image of Sandberg. It is this “just plain folks” image that has been instrumental in her success, for it shows her as vulnerable.

This is not her only strategy. When giving filmed lectures, she wears clothes with sexy deep V-necks and stiletto heels and this image creates the aura of vulnerable femininity. It reminds one of the popular television advertisement from years ago wherein a sexy white woman comes home and dances around singing: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man…cause I’m a w-o-m-a-n!” Sandberg’s constructed image is not your usual sexist misogynist media portrayal of a feminist. She is never depicted as a man-hating ball-busting feminist nag.

Instead, she comes across both in her book and when performing on stages as a lovable younger sister who just wants to play on the big brother’s team. It would be more in keeping with this image to call her brand of women’s liberation faux feminism. A billionaire, one of the richest women in the world, Sandberg deflects attention from this reality. To personify it might raise critical questions. It might even have created the conditions for other women to feel threatened by her success. She solves that little problem by never speaking of money in Lean In; she uses the word once.

And if that reality does not bring to her persona enough I‘M EVERYWOMAN appeal, she tells her audiences: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner or who that partner is.” Even though most women, straight or gay, have not seen choosing a life partner as a  ‘career decision’, anyone who advocates feminist politics knows that the choice of a partner matters. However, Sandberg’s convenient use of the word partner masks the reality that she is really speaking about heteronormative partnerships, and even more specifically marriages between white women and white men. She shares: “Contrary to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of the more successful female business leaders have partners.” Specifically, though not directly, she is talking about white male husbands. For after telling readers that the most successful women at the top are partnered, she highlights the fact that “of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, twenty- six were married, one was divorced and only one was never married.” Again, no advocates of feminism would disagree with the notion that individual women should choose partners wisely. Good partners as defined by old style women’s liberation movement and reiterated by Sandberg (who makes it seem that this is a new insight) are those who embrace equality, who care and share. One of the few radical arguments in Lean In is that men should come to the table – “the kitchen table.” This is rarely one of the points Sandberg highlights in her media performances.

Of course, the vast majority of men in our society, irrespective of race, embrace patriarchal values; they do not embrace a vision or practice of gender equality either at work or in the domestic household. Anyone who acts as though women just need to make right choices is refusing to acknowledge the reality that men must also be making the right choice. Before females even reach the stage of life where choosing partners is important, we should all be developing financial literacy, preparing ourselves to manage our money well, so that we need not rely on finding a sharing partner who will manage our finances fairly. According to More Magazine, American women are expected to control 23 trillion dollars by the end of the decade, which is “nearly twice the current amount.” But what will this control mean if women lack financial literacy? Acquiring money and managing money are not the same actions.  Women need to confront the meaning and uses of money on all levels. This is knowledge Sandberg the Chief Operating Officer possesses even if she coyly pretends otherwise.

In her 2008 book The Comeback, Emma Gilbey Keller examines many of the issues Sandberg addresses. Significantly, and unlike Sandberg, she highlights the need for women to take action on behalf of their financial futures. One chapter in the book begins with the epigram: “A woman’s best production is a little money of her own.” Given the huge amounts of money Sandberg has acquired, ostensibly by paying close attention to her financial future, her silence on the subject of money in Lean In undermines the call for genuine equality. Without the ability to be autonomous, in control of self and finances, women will not have the strength and confidence to “lean in.”

Mass media (along with Sandberg) is telling us that by sheer strength of will and staying power, any woman so inclined can work hard and climb the corporate ladder all the way to the top. Shrewdly, Sandberg acknowledges that not all women desire to rise to the top, asserting that she is not judging women who make different choices. However, the real truth is that she is making judgments about the nature of women and work – that is what the book is fundamentally about. Her failure to confront the issue of women acquiring wealth allows her to ignore concrete systemic obstacles most women face inside the workforce. And by not confronting the issue of women and wealth, she need not confront the issue of women and poverty. She need not address the ways extreme class differences make it difficult for there to be a common sisterhood based on shared struggle and solidarity.

The contemporary feminist movement has not concentrated meaningful attention on the issue of women and wealth. Rightly, however, the movement highlighted the need for gender equity in the workforce –equal pay for equal work. This economic focus exposed the reality that race was a serious factor over-determining women’s relationship to work and money. Much feminist thought by individual visionary women of color (especially black women thinkers) and white female allies called for a more accurate representation of female identity, one that would consider the reality of intersectionality. This theory encouraged women to see race and class as well as gender as crucial factors shaping female destiny. Promoting a broader insight, this work lay the groundwork for the formation of genuine female solidarity – a solidarity based on awareness of difference as well as the all-too-common gendered experiences women share. It has taken many years of hard work to create basic understandings of female identity; it will take many more years for solidarity between women to become reality.

It should surprise no one that women and men who advocate feminist politics were stunned to hear Sandberg promoting her trickle- down theory: the assumption that having more women at the top of corporate hierarchies would make the work world better for all women, including women on the bottom. Taken at face value, this seem a naive hope given that the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchal corporate world Sandberg wants women to lean into encourages competition over cooperation. Or as Kate Losse, author of Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, which is an insider look at the real gender politics of Facebook, contends: “By arguing that women should express their feminism by remaining in the workplace at all costs, Sandberg encourages women to maintain a commitment to the work place without encouraging the workplace to maintain a commitment to them.” It is as though Sandberg believes a subculture of powerful elite women will emerge in the workplace, powerful enough to silence male dominators.

Yet Sandberg spins her seductive fantasy of female solidarity as though comradely support between women will magically occur in patriarchal work environments. Since patriarchy has no gender, women “leaning in” will not automatically think in terms of gender equality and solidarity. Like the issue of money, patriarchy is another subject that receives little attention in Sandberg’s book and in her many talks. This is ironic, since the vision of gender quality she espouses is most radically expressed when she is delineating what men need to do to work for change. It is precisely her avoidance of the difficult questions (like how will patriarchal thinking change) that empowers her optimism and the overall enthusiastic spirit she exudes. Her optimism is so affably intense, it encourages readers to bypass the difficulties involved in challenging and changing patriarchy so that a just moral and ethical foundation for gender equality would become the norm.

Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg delivers the keynote speech at Barnard College’s 119th Commencement ceremony, Tuesday, May 17, 2011, in New York. Photographer: Louis Lanzano/Bloomberg

Women, and our male allies in struggle, who have been on the frontlines of feminist thinking and practice, see clearly the fairytale evocation of harmonious solidarity is no easy task.  Given all the forces that separate women and pit us against one another, solidarity is not an inevitable outcome. Sandberg’s refusal to do anything but give slight mention to racialized class differences undercuts the notion that she has a program that speaks to and for all women. Her unwillingness to consider a vision that would include all women rather than white women from privileged classes is one of the flaws in the representation of herself as a voice for feminism. Certainly she is a powerful mentor figure for fiscally conservative white female elites. The corporate infusion of gender equality she evokes is a “whites only” proposition.

To women of color young and old, along with anti-racist white women, it is more than obvious that without a call to challenge and change racism as an integral part of class mobility she is really investing in top level success for highly educated women from privileged classes. The call for gender equality in the corporate American is undermined by the practice of exclusivity, and usurped by the heteronormative white supremacist bonding of marriage between white women and men. Founded on the principles of white supremacy and structured to maintain it, the rites of passage in the corporate world mirror this aspect of our nation. Let it be stated again and again that race, and more importantly white supremacy, is a taboo subject in the world according to Sandberg.

At times Sandberg reminds readers of the old stereotypes about used car salesmen. She pushes her product and she pushes it well. Her shpiel is so good, so full of stuff that is obviously true, that one is inclined to overlook all that goes unspoken, unexplained. For example, she titles a chapter “you can’t have it all,” warning women that this idea is one of the most dangerous concepts from the early feminist movement. But the real deal is that Sandberg has it all, and in a zillion little ways she flaunts it. Even though she epitomizes the ‘have it all kinda girl’ – white, rich, and married to a wonderful husband (like the television evangelist Joyce Meyer, Sandberg is constantly letting readers know how wonderful her husband is lest we forget) – she claims women can’t have it all. She even dedicated the book to her husband “for making everything possible” – what doesn’t she have? Sandberg confesses that she has a loving family and children, more helpers in daily life than one can count. Add this to the already abundant list, she is deemed by the larger conservative media to be one of “the most influential,” most powerful women in the world. If this is not another version of the old game show “queen for a day,” what is? Remember that the women on the show are puppets and white men behind the scenes are pulling the strings.

Even though many advocates of feminist politics are angered by Sandberg’s message, the truth is that alone, individually she was no threat to feminist movement. Had the conservative white male dominated world of mass media and advertising not chosen to hype her image, this influential woman would not be known to most folks. It is this patriarchal male dominated re-framing of feminism, which uses the body and personal success of Sheryl Sandberg, that is most disturbing and yes threatening to the future of visionary feminist movement. The model Sandberg represents is all about how women can participate and “run the world.” But of course the kind of world we would be running is never defined. It sounds at times like benevolent patriarchal imperialism. This is the reason it seemed essential for feminist thinkers to respond critically, not just to Sandberg and her work, but to the conservative white male patriarchy that is using her to let the world know what kind of woman partner is acceptable among elites, both in the home and in the workplace.

Feminism is just the screen masking this reframing. Angela McRobbie offers an insightful take on this process in her book, The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change, explaining: “Elements of feminism have been taken into account and have been absolutely incorporated into political and institutional life. Drawing on a vocabulary that includes words like ‘empowerment’ and ‘choice,’ these elements are then converted into a much more individualistic discourse and they are deployed in this new guise, particularly in media and popular culture, but also by agencies of the state, as a kind of substitute for feminism. These new and seemingly modern ideas about women and especially young women are then disseminated more aggressively so as to ensure that a new women’s movement will not re-emerge.” This is so obviously the strategy Sandberg and her supporters have deployed. McRobbie then contends that “feminism is instrumentalized. It is brought forth and claimed by Western governments, as a signal to the rest of the world that this is a key part of what freedom now means. Freedom is re-vitalized and brought up to date with this faux feminism.” Sandberg uses feminist rhetoric as a front to cover her commitment to western cultural imperialism, to white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Clearly, Sandberg, with her website and her foundation, has many female followers. Long before she was chosen by conservative mass media as the new face of faux feminism, she had her followers. This is why I chose to call my response “dig deep,” for it is only as we place her in the overall frame of female cultural icons that we can truly unpack and understand why she has been chosen and lifted up in the neoliberal marketplace. Importantly, whether feminist or not, we all need to remember that visionary feminist goal which is not of a women running the world as is, but a women doing our part to change the world so that freedom and justice, the opportunity to have optimal well-being, can be equally shared by everyone – female and male.


Dig Deep: Beyond Lean Inbell hooks, noted cultural critic, commentator, and feminist, is Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, she has chosen the lower case pen name bell hooks, based on the names of her mother and grandmother, to emphasize the importance of the substance of her writing as opposed to who she is. She is the author of over thirty books, many of which have focused on issues of social class, race, and gender. In 2013,  she published the award-winning poetry collection Appalachian Elegy and Writing Beyond Race.


  1. miaokuancha

    October 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Fuck lean in and corporate brainwashing. Stay the fuck out of my daughters’ brains.

    • Ann

      November 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Oh, you’d prefer your daughter become an ‘artist’ or ‘drive through cashier’ as opposed to a corporate leader. I see. Yes down with corporate brainwashing encouraging career success.

      • stephan geras

        November 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm

        this article isn’t about career success, there are many Sandbergs in the developed world who are on the speaking tour making motivational speeches to lift people who pay for it out of despair and low self esteem. If self esteem were valued like CDO’s or subprimes, there’s enough eager buyers to make a few entrepreneurs megawealthy. Bell Hooks is writing about the myth which is a cash cow for a few who have risen from priviledge to more of the same without even slightly compromising their narcissistic fealty to the MAN, the BOSS, the maker of wealth.

        • Sandra

          November 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm

          Yeah, and she’s writing it from a position of a protected university job.

          Most working women aren’t as privileged as bell hooks and don’t deserve her sneers about working to make things better for women at corporations. You can hate WalMart, for example, but don’t sneer at the woman manager doing something to move things forward. That WalMart manager even calling herself feminist is taking quite a risk and even working in a way smaller than a person with a protected academic income would do is great. Not everyone is privileged to just opt out of corporate life until it is the utopia and to sneer at people even trying to make it better is rich.

          You can say something like, we should just do away with all corporations, but in the here and now, why sneer at that woman, even if she is white, trying to make things better, even if she is not a perfect academic feminist with a protected university salary and benefits upon which to make her statements?

    • Laura

      November 9, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Sandberg says: “many people are not interested in acquiring power, not because they lack ambition, but because they are living their lives as they desire.” Do you have a problem with that?

    • karla

      November 16, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      In her book Hitler’s Furies, Wendy Lowers comments

      “Genocide is also women’s business.”

      Would Sandberg have any moral criticism of women who successfully “leaned in” to the Holocaust & achieved “gender equality” with their male Nazi comrades?

  2. Mary

    October 28, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I found this article by chance on my twitter feed and I’m so glad I read it. I work for a corporation ( finance to be exact) and there is a lot of promotion of her book in our company. I’ve found her book irritating, condescending and something I cannot relate to, even though I do believe it speaks to women like me than to say a struggling mother of three working her second shift at a Walmart somewhere in this country. I always thought she spoke from a place of privilege, her parents were doctor, she went to a very expensive and good private school, was always an above average student and hence had a head-start that many can only dream of. ( there is no doubt she made use of the opportunities that were given to her but those are the very opportunities that most women in this country lack). Then there is also the small problem with her assumption that women tend to better understand the problems facing women. If that were the case then Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and many other countries that have had women leaders should have had better gender equality indicators. But that is not the case! Your article is very insightful!

  3. Kirk Askia Talib-deen

    October 28, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I enjoyed the article ‘Dig Deep’ by bell hooks. As an African-American/Black male (still searching for the correct identity) I find fascinating the vocabulary of feminist and/or feminist politics; in other words, this group that truly challenges this Western hegemonic language determined by a White-male dominance. For the Black male, not dismissing at all the woman, we must learn to deconstruct the myth which constantly reinforces or perpetuates the present state of affairs.

  4. dsrtrosy

    October 28, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    bell hooks is such a brilliant woman–this is so typical of her writing, both scholarly and accessible. Those of us who want to change the world need to understand that we have to really clearly define what that change should look like. Reframing feminism isn’t all bad, but allowing the white patriarchy to reframe it is devastating.

  5. Paul Winkler

    October 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    “At no point In Lean In does she let readers know what would motivate patriarchal white males in a corporate environment to change their belief system or the structures that support gender inequality.”

    And that is indeed the main problem for feminism (and any other fight for justice, too.) How to encourage the privileged to share their privilege, when the majority of them don’t even agree that they ARE privileged?

    Good article, if rather loquacious.

  6. Douglas Moran

    October 28, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    My problem with Sandberg goes far beyond her faux feminism (which seems to boil down to “Now that I’ve got mine, I’m not going to help you get yours other than via sloganeering”, but then I’m a cynic), but the fact that she is a profound hypocrite. At high cost, she built a daycare center next to her office on the Yahoo corporate campus, but if you are not rich and able to afford such a thing yourself, Sandberg’s response is, “Tough shit; you still have to come in to work. Work from home? Hell no!” (And alas, her attitude is finding plenty of traction with other executives in businesses where their employees could *easily* work from home just as, if not more, productively).

    Sandberg got hers. Like many folks in the GOP, her attitude is that if you weren’t lucky enough to achieve her level of success, well too bad for you, and here are some slogans for you. I say to her: Feh.

    • @Douglas

      October 28, 2013 at 6:18 pm

      I think you’re referring to Melissa Myers – the CEO of yahoo. Sandberg works for facebook

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  9. Cher Nobelle

    October 28, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    “Sandberg’s refusal to do anything but give slight mention to racialized class differences undercuts the notion that she has a program that speaks to and for all women. Her unwillingness to consider a vision that would include all women rather than white women from privileged classes is one of the flaws in the representation of herself as a voice for feminism.” This is an interesting statement as it made me think of the recent UN Global Gender Gap Report. Of course, nordic countries top the list in terms of equality, but I wonder if part of their speedy progress has something to do with the general homogeneity of their populations.

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    • Amanda

      November 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Excellent point – raising the question of why did this book get all this attention in contrast to books of critical theory that are far more reaching and exacting in their content? What role did the interscectionality of her social position on top of a system of patriarchy capitalism and white supremacy play in this book being promoted in the way that it did. This book doesn’t really threaten the status quo it asks us to complicit in it.

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  14. Ginnette Powell @caffeinehusky

    October 28, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Great read needs to be said and read over and over again…

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  17. Pingback: Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In | The Feminist Wire | The Feminine Mystake

  18. Mo

    October 29, 2013 at 4:46 am

    I find your comment “This is not her only strategy. When giving filmed lectures, she wears clothes with sexy deep V-necks and stiletto heels and this image creates the aura of vulnerable femininity” typical of the femmephobia that is rampant in feminist circles. How she chooses to express her sexuality is her choice, and is not the problem.

    • John Brier

      October 30, 2013 at 2:00 am

      I was also surprised by this comment, taken out of context from the article it could be said for the purposes of victim blaming. Because of that when I read it, it kind of triggered a warning in my head: “Watch out, problematic language is being used.”

      I suppose it only makes sense within the context of the point bell hooks was making at the time, that it was one of several ways in which Sandberg is presenting herself in a vulnerable way.

      As a white heterosexual man I became aware, through feminist theory, that because of sexism women’s appearances are always open to criticism: “too sexy, not sexy enough, asking for it, shoulda worn a bra,” stuff like that.

      So for me at least, I tried to relearn the opposite lesson: women’s appearances are never open to criticism.

      Is there ever a time when they are, though?

      Clearly bell hooks thinks so. She is not speaking from a place of internalized, unconscious, patriarchal or sexist thinking, she is criticising a “faux-feminism.”

      She isn’t blaming Sandberg for someone else’s disrespect or violence towards her like is typical in sexist critiques of women’s appearances, so at least in that sense, it’s not the same. It doesn’t warrant the typical “warning” bell you might get, like I did.

      Sandberg isn’t likely consciously choosing a vulnerable appearance, and she almost certainly is consciously choosing it because she just likes it, but hooks makes a valid point that shoes like stilettos make you physically vulnerable, because you can’t run in them.

      This is a part of the whole presentation of Sandberg’s “feminism” that hooks is deconstructing for us.. feminism that is incomplete and non-threatening and thus something that is comfortable to a “imperialist, white supremacist capitalist, patriarchal” culture.

      I don’t know. I’m just trying to put myself in bell hooks head. I think that’s how she justifies it. In the end when I read your comment “how she chooses to express her sexuality is her choice, and is not the problem,” I have to agree.. This one thing is not the problem.. her rhetoric alone is problem enough.. hooks could leave this point out and her argument is still solid, it’s unnecessary.

      bell hooks, if you’re reading these comments, I would love your feedback.

      • Elle

        November 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm

        Solidarity with women and men who are oppressed by current economic structures is not created by wearing the right dress. But even if we wanted to make such an empty criticism, Sandberg’s clothing is incredibly basic and functional for her job. Maybe I’m watching the wrong media, but I have seen no plunging v-necks or clothes that telegraph “vulnerable femininity”.

        hooks makes a number of good points, but like so many of Sandberg’s critics, her message is essentially that Sandberg didn’t write the type of feminist critique that the critic would have written. It’s unfortunate that the big feminist best-seller is really just a compendium of practical advice about how to get out there and make some gains, but that’s no knock on the advice. hooks is right: most of what Sandberg says is true. And it’s a shame that since her message is palatable and compatible with corporatism, it’s widely read and promoted relative to the “deeper” feminist critiques and calls to action. That’s okay with me though. One has to start somewhere. I didn’t expect Sandberg to dismantle corporate culture, did you? Meanwhile, she has some sage advice.

  19. Pingback: Links: Monday, October 29th | Love in the Margins

  20. Pingback: The Round-Up: Oct. 29, 2013 | Gender Focus – A Canadian Feminist Blog

  21. EMC

    October 29, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Too many assumptions here. The beauty of Lean In is that it’s not meant to be a specific map for a specific group/type/income level. It’s not only meant for any political agenda. By equating itself with a specific cause, or liberal vs conservative, or feminist vs non-feminist, you lose the primary message. I don’t read into any subliminal message others might find. Just take the parts of this book, of ANY book, that might help you in your own personal endeavors, and run with it.

  22. Anna

    October 29, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    “faux feminism”? Come one, that’s just mean. And unhelpful. Sandberg’s book was really useful for me (I’m a female assistant prof. of engineering at a big research university). I’m glad she wrote it, and I honestly think her message is going to reach and help a lot more women than this entire website. So what are you doing to help and inspire women?

    • tlfk

      October 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Well, it also may be unfair to assume that just because this website may not have the reach of Ms. Sandberg’s book that it has done nothing to help women. Mass appeal of something just means it has good marketing, and itself isn’t really indicative of whether something is good or bad.

      It seems like Ms. Sandberg’s book is designed to help women on an individual level, to overcome the roadblocks to success in their paths. And that’s a useful and necessary function. But helping to remove those road blocks in the first place for future generations of women is also a necessary and vital function of feminism, and what I think ms. hooks is getting to in this piece. I can help many women individually in the direct provision of crisis services for those experiencing violence; but I can help more collectively by advocating a dismantling of the societal structures that contribute to the epidemic of violence against women that occurs simply b/c they are women.

      I think plenty of women find value in what Ms. Sandberg has written, and that’s great. But I also think there is value to ms. hooks’ writings as well, and to this site. At least, I find them useful for the advocacy work I do.

      • Trash

        October 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        There is, of course, a place for both, but this otherwise highly articulate and compelling article’s tone is one I see throughout academia – bitterness against mass media, against the popularization of “old” ideas and the reductionism this entails. I would have taken more from this if it hadn’t been abundantly clear from the start that hooks was grumpy and resentful. And as she says, though with very different emphasis, whether you agree with Sandberg or not, at least she has brought the discourse front and center.

        • Kristyl

          November 3, 2013 at 12:32 am

          Why is it that when Black women writers disagree with a popular notion of, well, anything presented in large doses by, well, anyone outside of their own ethnic group, they are automatically labeled “grumpy” and “resentful”? There are a number of black women who might embrace Sandberg’s theory of “feminism,” and many women of color who may not. Black women are not monolithic, and we are no grumpier or resentful than anyone else. Though certainly we can point to a number of social issues, not of our making, that would rightfully justify our sense of disappointments. We certainly, however, are not “resentful.” Please set your descriptives on the right path. And while you’re engaged in that exercise, check yourself. You might be the grumpy and resentful one.

          • Monica Davis

            November 4, 2013 at 12:45 pm

            Black people are as varied as our skin tones. We rise from black that is so black it is shining purple, to so vanilla that we have to fight for our “blackness.” No one speaks for us, but ourselves–singular as opposed to plural, and we rejoice in our glorious differences.
            I, for one, am tired of people beating up on each other over opinions, politics and ethnicity. Be whatever God made you, what ever that is, and rejoice in your uniqueness and the glorious differences of others.

    • Imagynne

      October 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm

      Did you…really just ask bell hooks what she’s doing to help and inspire women?

      • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

        November 3, 2013 at 8:57 am

        I know, right? I just cannot believe what I’m seeing.

        Privileged woman, almost certainly white, able-bodied, and cisstraight, asks bell hooks what she has done for girls and women?

        Not sure whether to laugh or cry.

  23. Sandy

    October 29, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I think this article is based on distortions of Sandbergs books & comments. A few minor issues – she identifies proudly as a feminist, she’s not a conservative and she speaks alot about men sharing the work at home. Most importantly she emphasizes that systemic sexism exists and needs to be tackled but there are many books about that and very few on how to be sucessful despite that.

    Quite frankly, talking about sytemic sexism is great if you’re talking to a corporate board, its not as useful to young female graduates – what they need is help navigating a sexist society and world.

    I’m also tired of hearing that it only applies to white wealthy women. I’m not white or rich and I felt it was really practical advice for me. I negotiated the salary for my next job, the first time I ever did, after reading the book. I applied to jobs I was really excited by, not just ones I thought would accept me. I was more willing to set boundaries with co-workers who were trying to push me into roles I didn’t want.

    I’m tired of one of the very few sucessful women in the world who dares to encourage other women to rise to the top too being ripped apart for it. No sucessful man writing a book charting the road to sucess would be villified like this.

    You may disagree with me, and thats fine. But I would encourage everyone to please read the book yourself rather than reading articles about it before forming an opinion.

    • mpk

      October 29, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Thank you so much for posting this defense of Lean In.

      I, too, agree that Sandberg’s book, though vilified by many as narrow and “faux feminist,” gives volumes of advice for young female graduates. Unfortunately for us, we cannot “step out” (as Dig Deep prescribes) and assert our desires for systemic change, as we are graduating and must learn to work within the system that exists.

      The ONLY way for change to come about is for more people aware of these issues to be in leadership, decision-making roles. I truly believe that when more women have the voice and power to make decisions about reproductive rights, workplace practices, and other major decisions, the female perspective will at least be given far greater credence than when decisions are made solely by males.

      As for the race/cultural issue, no one (including Sandberg) denies the existence of barriers to true equality on these fronts. But that is not the topic of her book. Her focus is on women who aspire to hold leadership roles in their career. If she doubled the size of her book, she could potentially include other race/class/socioeconomic issues, but it is unfair to indemnify her for not including this topic in her discussion.

      Additionally, very early in the book, Sandberg asserts that diversity in decision making positions has always proven to provide better outcomes. THAT is the incentive for men to participate in these discussions. Her statement obviously infers that diversity in race and class would contribute positively to those outcomes, but again, include a host of issues far too broad for the scope of her book.

      At the end of the day, I see Sandberg’s book as being incredibly helpful for many women, and while some may find it too narrow in its scope, it most certainly does not do any harm to the movement of female empowerment.

      • John Brier

        October 30, 2013 at 2:22 am

        “As for the race/cultural issue, no one (including Sandberg) denies the existence of barriers to true equality on these fronts. But that is not the topic of her book.”

        If you write a book about equality for “women” without qualifying yet do not spend more than a cursory amount of time talking about the differences in treatment towards women of color or their access to resources you are implicitly denying equality for women of color. That’s white supremacy.

        • Rachel

          November 1, 2013 at 10:02 pm

          You can’t expect every book that addresses gender inequality to adequately speak to every aspect of feminism.
          Sandberg’s book is about succeeding in the corporate environment as a woman, not as a racial minority.
          This criticism of Lean In feels petty. If every single woman isn’t invited to the party, no one gets to go.

          • Sturgeon's Law

            November 18, 2013 at 9:14 am

            Yes, you can expect that- it’s what proper feminism looks like. Your post is an example of what happens when you don’t address those aspects- you end up thinking about some imaginary, monolithic “woman” who doesn’t exist. Most women in a position to make use of Sandberg’s advice are white women with considerable unearned social advantages over their counterparts of other backgrounds. If every single woman isn’t invited to the party, what you’ll end up with is tokenism and mystification of concrete realities, as in Lean In.

          • Elle

            November 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm

            In response to Sturgeon’s Law,
            I’m not excited about being told what “proper” feminism is. Nor do I think you have provided any evidence that Sandberg’s book does any of the things you say. It does not think of women as monolithic. If you think it speaks mostly to privileged white women, either you haven’t read the book or you are the one making false assumptions about who sits in the positions Sandberg is thinking about. Since when are non-white women or women with few social advantages not in a position to make use of advice about how to advance in their careers? And why would you assume that? That insults me.

    • Xeres

      October 29, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      But it is still pro-capitalist and it doesn’t really challenge the exploitation in general

      • Elle

        November 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm

        This is a completely fair criticism, and I would say an accurate one. If feminism needs to be anti-capitalist and make a more radical challenge to the ways our economic institutions systematically exploit people, then Sandberg’s feminism will not get the job done. I still like her message because I don’t expect all feminist books to adopt that kind of radical stance; I still think they can be very useful without doing that. But it’s still a fair criticism.

  24. Brightlight

    October 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    So the upshot is we all need to be educated. Men women, LGBTQ, white, red, brown, black, yellow, green, blue. Sandberg’s appeal and target market is not women in academic feminist collective thinking. Her target market is tomorrow’s stay at home mom, who doesn’t think they have value in going back to work. Her target market for this book is women who do not self describe as feminists. For those who are the firm believing, self labelling feminists/equalists, race and career don’t matter. They have LEANED IN to their path. They are typically not trying to become COO because they don’t buy into the corporate hierarchy. If they did buy into the whole COO way of life, they would have publicists getting them on the cover of Time and CosmoCareers. For those in the academic collective who have studied this subject for a lifetime, they know where they stand on this spectrum of feminism. Her target is people who haven’t self identified. Haven’t labelled. Haven’t chosen their spot on the spectrum. She is no doubt targeting primarily white women. No question. This is because white women are not using their heads. They have a sense of privilege with their white husbands, and their white cookie cutter lives. Being a white woman, with a mid level job, and a college degree, and a white husband, many of my contemporaries still believe their place is in the home. Many believe their degrees were to get a husband, and many believe that they are not “feminists”. She is saying get on the career track because it is of value, don’t let your white husband talk you into staying at home. I find it hard to believe there isn’t one person of color or non-American nationality in these college campuses she is stumping at. If she is choosing to target tomorrow’s leaders, who just happen to be a great colleges, then she is using her time wisely. If she were to go to projects, or subsidized living and try to make a difference is would be a much larger time commitment and would have a smaller chance of success. She is working with people who have already worked hard to get into school and navigated the system. That is not a class structure, but someone who is targeting people with drive and discipline.

    • John Brier

      October 30, 2013 at 2:56 am

      “If she is choosing to target tomorrow’s leaders, who just happen to be a great colleges, then she is using her time wisely. If she were to go to projects, or subsidized living and try to make a difference is would be a much larger time commitment and would have a smaller chance of success. She is working with people who have already worked hard to get into school and navigated the system. That is not a class structure, but someone who is targeting people with drive and discipline.”

      All people have the potential to be leaders. It’s not because people live in projects or subsidized living that they can’t be leaders. It might be because they are recovering from previous generations of slavery, institutionalized racism, and continuing racism.

      On the opposite side of the coin, because people are at good universities it does not mean they navigated a fair system based on their abilities alone, it might be because they have the additional capital resources and connections created through the violent use of other people’s lives for their singular gain and the unfair advantage that created, because those subjected to that violence never got that capital, those resources or those connections. To this day that is still not yet rectified. It will take a long time to fix that problem, as it took a long time to create it.

      Implicit bias based in racism effects even people of color, that is to say that the very people who should be aware of prejudice and racism are affected by the prejudiced and racist society they live in, to their own detriment.

      Prejudice is statistically significant throughout our systems, including educational systems. Essentially, they are racist. So recognizing that people of color are more likely to be in subsidized living and are underrepresented in higher education and then saying that they don’t have discipline, drive or that they don’t work hard is victim blaming.

    • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

      November 3, 2013 at 9:21 am

      ” . Men women, LGBTQ, white, red, brown, black, yellow, green, blue. “

      1. I think you mean LGBTQ people

      2. You are aware, I hope, that red, yellow, green and blue people do not exist?

      Both your elision of the word “people” in the first instance, and the conflation of actual people of colour with the dismissively thrown in with the non-existent “red, yellow, green, and blue” people belies a fundamental ignorance of, and disrespect for, the struggles faced by all of those people.

      Green people are not systematically oppressed, inappropriately sexualised, or subject to the horrors of white supremacy and imperialism.

      Also, a description of millions of oppressed people that neglects to include their very personhood and renders them down to just letters, is a similarly jarring occurrence. ‘L’s don’t fear corrective r*pe or forced marriage to men, ‘T’s aren’t demonised and murdered on a daily basis. They’re just letters that represent people, not the people themselves.

  25. Pingback: bell hooks’ Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In | HeatherN

  26. Soren

    October 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    hooks stated there are older feminists who gave loud criticisms. What is the reference she is making, who are they?

  27. Anna

    October 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    As with many opinion pieces, you make some points I agree with, and some where I’d take more convincing. My key concern is this – had Sandberg discussed the impact of race or upbringing on the types of people (male or female) who make it to the top of the corporate hierarchy, she would have been extensively derided as not having a clue what she was on about. Which…she doesn’t! She’s a wealthy white chick, and always has been. So instead she has avoided the subject – not necessarily the noblest choice, but one that is easily understood.

    This book is not about racism, or the education system, or classism or any of that. It is about being a woman, and being successful (whatever your background) in a society that is often sexist. You could always write a companion book about the challenges of dealing with racism? 🙂

    • John Brier

      October 30, 2013 at 3:02 am

      “This book is not about racism, or the education system, or classism or any of that. It is about being a woman, and being successful (whatever your background) in a society that is often sexist.”

      It’s not about being a woman, because people of color are also women and sexism affects them in racialized ways, yet this book ignores that. If the book had said it was about “white privileged women,” it would be accurate.

      • HeatherN

        October 30, 2013 at 4:11 pm

        To add to that, you cannot talk about women without also talking about race, education and class, either implicitly or explicitly. A white woman’s race might be invisible due to privilege, but it still affects her life. In fact, that’s part of the problem (and the same reason Girls gets criticised, really)…it’s not that she didn’t talk about racism, but rather she didn’t acknowledge that she was not talking about it.

        She used straight, white, upper class, cis woman’s experiences as an umbrella for all women, not realising that her experience is absolutely dependant on her race, class, etc., as much as a black woman or a working class woman’s is.

      • Laura

        November 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

        John and HeatherN, I’ve read Sandberg’s book and I do not believe that it is about white privileged women. It does not pretend to have an entirely universal message, either, but is it just white, privileged women who “internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives–the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men”? Are the “barriers that prevent more women from getting to the top” excluding only white, privileged women?

        • Sturgeon's Law

          November 18, 2013 at 9:34 am

          Well, no, those barriers aren’t excluding only white, privileged women, but the point is that most other women have much more to deal with than those barriers, and so those barriers are not their primary concern, as they are for these privileged women. Getting women who are already at the top of the ladder a little higher does nothing for the majority of those women on the bottom, who are facing all kinds of other, and quite frankly more pressing difficulties with even basic, everyday needs.

          • mpk

            November 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

            After reviewing all the comments here, I am still flabbergasted by the criticism of Sandberg and her book.

            I am a 1st generation Asian American woman in medical school. I look around hospitals and medical colleges and feel that, despite women being more represented than ever in healthcare, leadership/board meetings still look like “old boys clubs.”

            I have overcome many obstacles in my path to getting to medical school, and I look around at my classmates and similarly see all kinds of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that many have given in order to rise from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds to form my class. But the reality is that, no matter how any of us got to this point, more of the men in my class will go on to positions of high leadership.

            I have aspirations of holding a leadership role in medicine (program director? department chair? dean?) Maybe, because I am going to become a doctor and I don’t come from an underrepresented racial minority, you may consider me “privileged.” I still know there are barriers to me reaching the top of the field SIMPLY because I am a woman, and I know there is a whole population of women in the same position as me for whom Sandberg’s book is perfectly relevant and applicable. I, quite frankly, find it insulting that a book that addresses my plight to succeed, even if I did not have racial and socioeconomic barriers, is discredited as “faux feminism.”

            I do not discredit the struggles that many people of certain racial and socioeconomic backgrounds have to undergo to succeed. If someone wrote a book addressing only them, I would read it, I would internalize whatever I found relevant to me, and I would respect and praise it for addressing a relevant issue in today’s society.

            I wish that Sandberg’s book would be granted the same respect.

  28. Pingback: Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ Is Faux Feminism

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  30. Marcy

    October 30, 2013 at 8:46 am

    OK – up front, I have not read Sandberg’s book. But the respondents who say, “I disagree, because the book helped me” are missing the point. Several points, actually. Feminism – to my understanding – is not about raising individual women up to individual success. It is about improving the situation of women overall. But, more dangerously, the problem with the use of the term “feminism,” and the problem with the idea that Sandberg has somehow rehabilitated “feminism” for a modern audience, is that the “feminism” of the early 20th century and the 1970s enveloped all women as somehow homogeneous. It was not relevant to all women, and indeed ignored the situation of women who did not fit its mold. Feminism has learned a lot since the 1970s. This is what I take from bell hooks’ article – that Sandberg’s “feminism” is equally blind to difference, and equally harmful in creating the race blind, color blind, sexuality blind, wealth blind idea of women. Suggesting that all women can just “Lean In” overlooks the rampant and pervasive injustices facing women worldwide. So let’s say Sandberg’s book might be helpful to some individual women in the United States. But let’s not make the mistake of calling it “feminism.” Faux feminism is the more accurate terminology.

    • John Brier

      October 30, 2013 at 11:56 am

      Great summary of her point.

    • Chloe Dawson

      October 30, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      I always understood feminism to be a big tent, with many people inside, working on different projects. If all action has to be done with a view to bettering the lives of all women, everywhere, then very little work at all can be called feminist.

      • Bob

        October 31, 2013 at 11:18 am

        This link gives another excellent viewpoint from a WoC that echoes bell here. That is, if feminism is to mean anything at all as a social justice movement, it must not perpetuate oppression in doing so. If feminism cedes this point, inevitably it will be the needs of faux feminists like Sandberg which are prioritized over the needs of women who lack her many privileges. JUST AS IN EVERY OTHER SOCIAL INSTITUTION! Feminism succeeds at nothing if it is absorbed by the power structure – both bell and Flavia say as much.

        • DMc

          October 31, 2013 at 10:15 pm

          If I were a doctor and only performed cardiac procedures, would that make me a faux doctor because I am not addressing the needs of people with other problems? Am I “succeeding at nothing” because I can’t cure cancer?

          • Bob

            November 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

            No, that wouldn’t make you a faux doctor, or futile.

            This response seems disingenuous but I will give you the benefit of the doubt. See, a cardiac doctor doesn’t need to HARM other patients in order to HELP cardiac patients. It would be far out of her way to do so. For the doctor to work every day euthanizing cancer patients in hospital beds to make room for cardiac patients would, in my opinion, serve neither patient population. [I’m not being dense, I know cardiac patients would benefit in some small way but it is easy to see that the doctor’s time is better spent performing cardiac procedures if her goal is really to help cardiac patients.]

            Yet this is what faux feminism does. It claims we can throw under the bus all women who aren’t straight, white and wealthy, and somehow still stand on the moral authority of helping women in general. Just like for your hypothetical doctor, feminists undertaking activism to benefit women should not [theoretically] have any *need* to go so far out of their way to stomp on queer, black/WoC and poor women to accomplish their goals. Yet privileged feminists frequently claim that they are “too busy working for women” to avoid oppressing along virtually every other kyriarchal* axis.

            Can we agree that’s pretty much bullshit?


          • DMc

            November 2, 2013 at 4:15 am

            Bob, I wasn’t being disingenuous at all, so thank you for taking it at face value.

            I guess my confusion and query came about because of the difference between the widespread understanding of the definition of feminism (which is the dictionary definition) and that of “visionary feminist thinkers”, which seems to be concerned with the oppression of all women regardless whether that oppression is gender based. To oppose all forms of oppression and discrimination I would consider egalitarianism, not feminism.

            In practical terms, for example, if Sandberg is complicit in the oppression of black women but only to the same extent as oppression of black men then I wouldn’t say that makes her a non-feminist or “faux feminist”, but a non-egalitarian.

    • Laura

      November 9, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Marcy, I would respectfully suggest that you read Sandberg’s book before offering criticisms. It doesn’t say what you think it does, essentially.

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  35. Jordan Stratford

    October 30, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    “…the conservative white male patriarchy that is using her to let the world know what kind of woman partner is acceptable among elites, both in the home and in the workplace.”

    You had me until this last bit, which at first struck me as out of context with the rest of this (excellent) piece. I’d like to understand it more. Can someone please shed some light on this statement?

    Thank you.

    • Prachi Pendse

      November 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      I interpret the patriarchy using her as being, if the elite did not find Sandberg acceptably vunerable/feminine/socially conforming, then they would not have supported (it currently has 290 platform partners listed on its website)
      Because Sandberg asks no dedication from these workplaces to the women who work there, the elite are willing to partner with her and hype her message (and book) in their own corporations. Instead she asks for more dedication from the women workers, turning them into the kind of women who are more acceptable among elites because businesses get more productivity out of them.
      If she asked for any real policy changes from LeanIn’s corporate partners she would not be so popular.

      • Elle

        November 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

        What is the evidence that she does not ask for this kind of dedication or policy change from workplaces? For example, on p. 130-131 and forward she discusses the problems created by the pointless corporate insistence on clocking more hours as a measure of performance. She discusses Colin Powell as an example of someone recognized as a great manager who doesn’t believe in this approach, and calls for a change in workplaces. A subtler but also important recommendation is found on pp. 147-149. I could go on with this a while, but what’s your evidence she doesn’t do this?

  36. Chloe Dawson

    October 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I must confess I haven’t yet read the book, but I intend to. So much of the criticism of Sandberg is that she doesn’t speak for all women. That she’s too white. Too rich. She’s reinventing the wheel. She’s left too much out. She’s been too girly. She doesn’t wear the right things.

    To me, it all looks like another way of silencing women. There are lots of academic theorist books that unpack intersectionality and racism and neoliberal capitalism. But what I, me, personally need urgently are role models of women who are right at the top of the system we live inside. I want to know how the Christine Lagardes and Angela Merkels and top executives negotiate raw power. I’ve risen quite high in my little niche and damn it’s hard. I want to know how other women deal with men refusing to look at you while negotiating with you, because they don’t recognise you as legitimate. I want to know how powerful women can make unpleasant, tough decisions and not be accused of being bitches, or have their decisions disregarded.

    Maybe this isn’t the book that does that. But Sandberg has got people talking about feminism and female power and that’s a great thing and maybe she’s opened a door for someone else to come along and do that. There must be space for non-academic, non-theoretical feminism. If people can only speak if they are fully conversant with 20 years of academic discourse, we’re sunk.

    • Sarah

      October 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      It’s not a way “of silencing women”, rather it challenges women to step outside of themselves to look at the larger picture. In fact SHE is silencing women by ignoring critical aspects of reality for millions of women. She has people talking about certain women in power, which in the end, will only benefit the same women who have benefited from these same conversations in the past (hence the author’s point of the kind of women partners accepted with the elites). As a woman of color I have men AND white WOMEN refusing to look at me because they don’t recognize me as legitimate. White WOMEN have accused me of being a bitch and disregard my ideas or opinions. I should not be silenced anymore than she should.

      20 years of academic discourse is not required to adopt principles of empathy and objectivity. These two qualities are essential for a book that claims to be for all women. No one is accusing her of being a terrible person, but it is very telling of society that only books like this get so much attention. Perhaps if she changed the title, or at the very least acknowledge the large gaps in her reach.

    • Sandra

      November 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      It does seem like the silencing of women in that “who do she think she is?” sort of silencing. In that: if I’m not perfect, why bother writing a book or calling myself feminist if I don’t get a seal from academic feminists.

      To me, bell hook literally sneers at women who work to make things better for women at corporations and literally sneers at the term “white.”

      That’s pretty rich coming from someone privileged with a protected academic job. In my neighborhood, most women work at corporations not universities or utopian co-ops. This is what is on offer for income and benefits. Some of them are white, hispanic, indian, asian and black.

      I can say it is remarkable that any woman who is on the C-level at a corporation would out herself as a feminist. I don’t know of any manager locally that would be so out as to write a book about the need for equality for women, so a sneer is not deserved no matter what race she is.

  37. James

    October 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I am a white middle/upper-middle class male working inside a fair-sized corporation in the lower-lower-middle of the hierarchy. I am also trying to be feminist in my orientation to power and oppression. I really appreciate this article and critique. A few observations from where I sit (to be as fair as bell hooks is, I admit I haven’t read Lean In). None are revelations, but perhaps function more to confirm what one might expect:
    – The pre-existing system changes you much more than you change it. When I think about the skills and ways I might advance, whether in this company or another one, it’s really the standard slate of behaviors: networking with the right people, “delivering value,” getting my accomplishments seen, etc. Also, these behaviors influence values. I wonder when the “crossover” point will occur, when I will begin to internalize the corporate values I am (in Sandberg’s schema) supposed to change.
    – those who come up in the system and make certain sacrifices to advance in it, generally expect those who follow them to make similar sacrifices to make similar advancements. I have seen this with both genders, though it has been especially noticeable concerning women who have children. IE, in seeking greater workplace “flexibility” as a man who wants to participate equally in child-raising, I have been shot down by women who did not have such policies available to them. It is a case of oppression becoming internalized and fading into “the way things are.”
    – Again, not a news flash, but my experience has not been that corporations shut out addressing racism/sexism, but just prioritize other things to the exclusion of addressing these problems. It’s worth noting, I think, because I sense sympathy and goodwill towards these causes, but they’re really at the back of the line, so often suffer from negligence rather than overt opposition. Whether that’s a distinction without a difference is debatable, but hooks puts her finger on it when she talks about “benevolent patriarchal imperialism.” There is a benevolent part to it, which is perhaps even more insidious.

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  45. DMc

    October 31, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    So under bell hooks’ definition of feminism, is there a difference between feminism and egalitarianism?

    • Bob

      November 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Not unless egalitarianism is “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

      Though this entire article addresses “intersectional feminism”, bell hooks implies there are no other legitimate kinds and so avoids hair-splitting semantics. The article assumes a familiarity with feminist theory and some academic terms that overlap terms in popular use.

      • DMc

        November 2, 2013 at 7:15 am

        Given that sexism and sexist exploitation are forms of oppression, “is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” can be shortened to, “is a movement to end oppression,” without changing its meaning and yes, I would say that’s a reasonable approximation to egalitarianism.

        If bell hooks is going to label someone a faux feminist, she needs to do some hair splitting to define exactly what is or isn’t feminism if she wishes to be understood by a wider audience than the academic elite.

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  53. Pamela Thoma

    November 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    This is a terrific critique of Sandberg’s Lean-In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. As she has done so often, hooks urges us to take popular discourse seriously, providing a very powerful rationale for the relevance of teaching feminist theory and feminist courses on work, poverty, and political economy, and providing other opportunities through which students can develop the critical skills (of intersectional feminist analysis) that will help them discern the limitations of Sandberg’s “faux feminism,” postfeminism, and/or liberal feminism broadly speaking.

    But if it is true that such opportunities are most often (though not exclusively) offered through women’s, gender, and sexuality studies programs/departments, these are precisely the units and courses that are some of the most precarious in the neoliberal university; the corporate model of public higher education that demands large enrollment classes has nearly eliminated the seminar style or small courses for undergraduates that are needed for serious engagement with primary theoretical texts.

    So, we should combine efforts to dig deep with efforts to stand up, to defend and insist on education that goes beyond leaning in or seeking to be part of white supremacist, heteropatriarchal corporate America. While this ideally would come as a collective call for transformative education and for social justice, the reality of the current structure on US campuses demands that we also need committed leadership—those individual faculty, chairs, and deans who have a seat at that proverbial table—to stand up. We all need to stand up to the corporate university’s requirements for huge enrollments in every course, for marketplace appeal/endorsement, and for educational “reform” or repackaging that reverts to the same old status quo. In the patriarchal academy, standing up for visionary feminist curricula and pedagogy that re-imagine the world is one way those of us privileged enough to already be on or affiliated with campuses (including alums) can work for change, especially in the context of LeanIn.Org’s territorial or imperialist ambitions.

  54. YES MA'AM!!

    November 3, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Mother hooks as spoken….Finally a real read of the weakness MANY of us have sensed from the “Lean In” phenomenon. BRILLIANT summary of patriarchy’s new favorite attempt at the okey doke–muddy the water around feminism to keep people who need it the most uninformed, confused, and thoroughly oppressed.

  55. Chauncey Zalkin

    November 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    yeah sheryl sandberg makes me gloss over. i saw her speak in person. i felt like she had a very narrow perspective available to her as a sheltered corporate executive and while she may be a great manager, she’s not a great or broad-thinking intellect. it’s better to bring attention to being outspoken as a woman at work than not but i don’t relate. for me its a given. of course you say what you mean and challenge groupthink, challenge the patriarchal paradigm and all of its insidious nonsense that leads women to self-suppress, but i think corporate leadership in the bastions of imperialist male power are akin to a life in hell. why does any woman aspire to make it in that world rather than supplant it with something wholly more modern, different, sustainable, and constructive?

    • Sandra

      November 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      I feel like bell hooks has a narrow perspective of someone with a protected university job with benefits who has the luxury of sneering at women who work at corporations.

      • Kate

        November 14, 2013 at 6:17 am

        Okay, this is the fifth time I’ve seen you make this assertion as I scroll through these comments, so I have to respond. It’s foolish to paint bell hooks as an out-of-touch academic aloft in her ivory tower; she’s devoted decades to pointing out the myriad ways modern feminism ignores and/or steps on women who are poor, disabled, queer, or otherwise disenfranchised. No one is attacking you for having a job at a corporation, but they are they criticizing the scope of modern feminism for resting squarely on the plight of the upper middle class.

        Every aspect of the media seeks to reinforce the idea that we’re already all equal in the ways that matter. This is false. The concept of “power” in the workplace of an upper middle class white woman is a vastly different subject than it is for her poor and/or black counterparts. For some women, power is an issue when her male colleagues pass her over for promotions. For some women, power is an issue when her male colleagues coerce her into sex with threats of termination because they know she is too financially vulnerable to quit, report their actions, or seek legal help. It’s not the job of “Lean In” to address the problems of women in the latter category, but it’s a problem for all women when the media pretends the former issues are the NEW FACE OF FEMINISM — as though the only thing left on feminism’s to-do list is getting an equal shot at being a CEO.

        It’s all too easy to sweep certain feminist issues under the rug and pretend they ended in the 1970s, because the women still experiencing them are framed in public opinion as stupid, lazy, or otherwise responsible for their bad lot in life. These are women who need feminism the most, and we do them a grave disservice by letting the feminist agenda be set by a rich white woman who was born into money. Sheryl Sandberg has no experience with overcoming the systemic forms of female oppression that exist in our society; her feminist credentials begin and end with a book about her own experiences in corporate America. bell hooks, your sneering academic, is a black woman from a working class family whose decades of work on women’s roles in society are used in college curriculums across the country. One of these people is literally an authority on the subject, and you’re arguing that she has a limited perspective?

        • Elle

          November 23, 2013 at 2:28 pm

          Kate, I agree with you that nobody should be sneering at bell hooks. On the other hand, what is your evidence that Sandberg’s “feminist credentials” begin and end where you say they do? I wonder if my oppression card has been punched enough times to participate in the discourse!

          I would agree with you that modern feminism should not be concerned primarily with “the plight of the upper middle class”. But how does Sandberg do that? Her book is loaded with examples like those discussed on p. 23: more women are supporting families on their own, and these numbers are even higher among Latina and African-American women. She argues there’s no such thing as “work-life balance” in the reality of women’s lives – as if “life” is something you can “balance” with other things.

          I would also like to know what it is exactly about “a rich white woman” setting a feminist agenda that does a disservice to other women. If she claimed to be setting THE feminist agenda, that would be bad. If she was ignoring concerns of other women or speaking about things that were irrelevant to their lives, that would be bad. What is the actual evidence that she does this? I hate to keep asking the same question, but did nobody here ever get the message that it’s not okay to just say things that strike your fancy without having the slightest factual basis for them?

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  59. Goldie

    November 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    When people write something like this: “why we should be skeptical of this sort of faux feminism” about Lean In, it’s women hating women for being visible and getting press. The author of that comment “faux feminism” is [deleted] and should consider herself a sister of Rush Limbaugh.

    Lean In is about the need for women to rise in corporations to the C-level. If you are not down with that ambition, it’s like criticizing a vegetarian book for not covering meat. It’s a cheap shot to attack Lean In saying it does not cover poor women (really it does if a poor woman wants to rise to the exec level), does not cover women with nonhelpful husbands (the book advocates for women demanding more from their husbands, but it also has sections on single parents and childfree women), does not cover women who do not have the ambition to rise at corporations and also, not enough about black women and stay at home mom ambitions.

    Do we criticize bell hooks for not covering the white woman’s experience in corporate america when she writes about feminism? Really? Gee if she doesn’t cover it, she must be a faux feminist for not being all things to all women. Nope we don’t criticize because that is not her experience. Do we criticize a book about stay at home moms for not covering corporate ambitions enough? Nope. Just women who are visible and wealthy get the demand to be all things to all people. Lean In is a thing that effete feminists love to bash like Rush and bash it for not being all things to all people and for all ambitions of women. It was never about all things. bell hooks is not above criticizing.

    • Jacqui

      November 6, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      I agree with you, Goldie. While I can appreciate some of her arguments I feel that this is the sort of divisive argument that is holier than thou while serving only to alienates women from the feminist movement. As someone who considers herself to be a feminist, I find this very disheartening. And total bullshit.

      This sends the message: if you are a successful woman in the corporate world, don’t bother trying to help other women trying to make their way there. By being part of that world in the first place you are, by definition, part of the problem. Screw that.

      • Sandra

        November 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm

        bell hook sneers at women who work in corporations and also does the side-swipe of race hate.

        Yeah, we get it. bell hooks does not think corporations should exist. Fair enough. Lean In is about the need for women to get ahead at corporations, though. As the writer above notes, it is like complaining that a vegetarian cookbook does not have enough about meat. Not exactly a fair review when you expect a book that says it is about a thing to criticize it for not being about anything else. I guess we should criticize bell hooks for not being about the white feminist perspective by that logic.

        But her writing about Lean In seems more like an ax grinding about white women in corporations than social change and a sneering at white feminists in general.

        bell hooks hates that a white woman wrote a book labelled as feminist and seems to argue that only poor or women of color can write a book that is truly feminist.

        That’s race hate and divisive from a position of privilege of a protected university job and benefits. Not all women can be as sneering at one race or sneering at women working with ambition at US businesses but her sneering puts her in the category of one of the racist conservative professors with tenure who carelessly writes to divide, hitting minorities for sassy sport. White women are not for the hitting as sport.

        bell hooks sneers at women who work at corporations while she is privileged with her university job with benefits. This is like sneering at women who try to improve factories or WalMart. Sure, you can say you hate WalMart, but don’t sneer at the women who need income and as they work at corporations work to improve the lot of women there. They are not privileged to opt out of corporate life as they earn a living or to be so choosy in environments that they can just opt not to work for a US business in their community. In a bit of irony, bell hooks is not inclusive of women and should be called out for not including the perspective of these women in her writings.

        • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

          November 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm

          What colour is the sky on Planet Sandra?

          It’s amusing that you feel so defensive of Sandberg that you’ve been motivated to leave four virtually identical comments. Your characterisation of bell hooks as some kind of jealous, privileged racist is pretty hilarious.

          It’s also pretty clear that you don’t grasp the meaning of ‘privilege’ as it’s used in this context. Sandberg is addressing wealthy, already successful, white, heterosexual women in the corporate world. To use a phrase coined by an actual feminist writer:

          “My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit”*

          Feminism is, or should be, for all women. The likes of Sandberg telling women to “Lean in” around the meeting table only works for those who can get into the room, who are able to defeat the barriers that have been erected, for those who can get the shackles off their feet. How do they lean in to the discussion if they’re outside on the pavement?

          Women of colour, LBQ women, trans women, disabled women, impoverished women all exist too. What about them? The patriarchy, the kyriarchy, does nothing but grind those women into the ground. I know you love the idea that Sandberg’s polished army is paving the way for these other women to get a fair chance, better wages, a better life – it’s nonsense. You’re being sold a lie. They’re making their own lives easy, and at the same time they’re reassuring the patriarchy that they’re not like those feminists, that male privilege and class privilege will not be challenged

          . They’re just handing out raggy, threadbare blankets to people dying of frostbite and hypothermia. Real social justice would involve them just just turning up the heat so that nobody’s cold. They could afford to do it, it wouldn’t make them colder, but they don’t want to do that because they gain more power and plaudits from handing out thin shredded blankets to the lucky few,while wrapped in thick fur coats and wearing fleece-lined Uggs, before retiring to their cosy homes with log fires and pure wool carpeting.

          Also, bell hooks is not claiming that capitalism is evil. If that’s the message you got then you’ve put 2 and 2 together, and got six. She’s saying that while the patriarchy exists, true equality is impossible. Any “Feminism” that allies itself to the patriarchy is pointless. It’s the mouse begging the cat to be kind and spare it’s life, knowing that the cat can kill it with one bite.

          Patriarchy must be dismantled from within. Rights are not a zero-sum game, giving rights to women does not remove rights from men. Allowing people of colour to be on an equal footing with white people does not disadvantage whites. Equal access for people with disabilities (physical, sensory, developmental and psychological) does not remove access for able and neurotypical people, does it? That’s how the patriarchy works.

          Look at the disgraceful healthcare system in the US, something that strikes at the very heart of the battle for social justice. The patriarchy screams “IT’S NOT FAIR IF EVERYONE HAS HEALTHCARE!! THEY’LL TAKE YOUR TAX DOLLARS!!” and the true believers lap it up, swallow the lie that it’ll bankrupt the country and make existing services worse, and fight to ensure that health equality never occurs. Like you, the disadvantaged believe the lie that one day they’ll be living the American dream and living the high life. They vote against their own self interest constantly, cutting health and social services, kicking own goals, because of the fantasy that one day they’ll be rich and when that day comes they don’t want to pay a penny in taxes that doesn’t directly benefit them. You believe that the Sandbergs are working hard to secure you a place at the table, that they’re making inroads for Keishas, the Rosas and the Rekhas – they aren’t. They’re throwing out crumbs of encouragement but hoarding the cake for themselves. They’re delighted by their pretty pink cake, but guess what? Upstairs the men are laughing because they’ve pulled a brilliant con, they’ve distracted the “feminists” downstairs with a little “Welcome to the Club!” party, distracting them from the fact that the boys own the bakery, they make the money, and they pull the strings.

          Juanita can’t make it to the party though, her kids are sick and she’s caring for her mama and can’t afford an in-home carer. Stacey lives in a neighbourhood with no wheelchair accessible public transport and can’t afford a taxi. There’s no employer-subsidised daycare for Rivka’s kids, and she’d be worse off working than staying at home. Tasha’s natural hair breaches corporate dress codes but a skin condition means that chemical straighteners, weaves and even wigs are not an option. None of this matters of course, because they weren’t invited to the party anyway.

          Only with patriarchy dismantled can the for equality truly begin. Only then can we turn up the heat and make everyone warm, instead of begging, and having to be grateful, for tiny thin blankets.

          BTW – I’m a white woman, I’m British, and so any attempts to apply the racist “angry black woman” trope to me will provoke nothing but a mixture of hilarity and disgust. I’m a member of multiple marginalised groups so intersectional feminism is vital. I reject any so-called feminism that focuses solely on the needs of the privileged few while minimising or outright ignoring the needs of those that need the most help and who have the most to gain from the movement.

          *Flavia Dzodan

          • Elle

            November 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm

            “Sandberg is addressing wealthy, already successful, white, heterosexual women in the corporate world.”

            What is the actual evidence for this claim? I have read the book cover to cover and listened to some of Sandberg’s interviews and I find ZERO evidence of this.

            “male privilege and class privilege will not be challenged”

            I also find ZERO evidence of this – indeed, precisely the opposite! The truly surprising thing about Sandberg’s book is that it DOES indeed challenge male privilege, and especially one place it seldom gets challenged: the seemingly small, everyday decisions that we make about how to manage our workplaces and daily lives. Challenging male privilege and even class privilege does not require the systematic dismantling of capitalism to begin prior to any challenging. It’s like you have the right goal, but your priorities are backwards. It’s the call for revolution that is itself privileged and a luxury.

            Sandberg’s whole book is about the examples you mention of Juanita and Rivka and so forth. You are illustrating exactly the points she makes about why this stuff is so hard, and what would be needed to change it. Have you read the book, seriously?

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  65. Desiree Jordan

    November 7, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    This article is both brilliant and timely and I am glad that I found the truth embedded in Bell Hook’s words. As a woman of color who stands in solidarity with people like Bell Hooks who truly respects an individual’s rights to “agency & autonomy”. I totally agree with her description of Sandberg [and too many other so called feminists as “faux” or what I term “F.I.N.O’s” [Feminist in name only].

    It never ceases to amaze me how white privilege, [even if “unconscious”] blinds white women [and the men they give birth to] to the reality that their own liberty is intrinsically tied to the liberty of each and every other individual – no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual preference/orientation etc etc… It is NOT okay to ignore “privilege” and how privilege nullifies equality when left unchecked as Sandberg displays. I will go even further to say, that Sandberg’s brand of “privilege drenched “feminism” is downright detrimental to ANY woman being deems as just as valuable as men are. Thank you again Bell Hooks for this brilliant piece.

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  67. Elle

    November 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    I appreciate this critique but feel that hooks missed the point of Sandberg’s book. She’s not trying to dismantle the capitalist system, no, but that’s also not the condition for success of her message. Rather, she starts from the premise that it would be better if people who were presently excluded from the victories in that system were taking part in it. And she does indeed specifically address the criticism that merely putting women at the top is enough. First, she’s talking about more than that, about changing expectations, social structures and the working world in ways that affect both women and men. Second, she doesn’t think that having more victories for the excluded is a bad thing, and that’s the bottom line none of these critics seem able to address. Why is it BAD to seek greater involvement of women in positions of power? Sandberg isn’t pretending it’s some kind of automatic fix; she’s saying it’s better than not. And how is hooks or anyone going to show that’s wrong?

    When it comes to how we achieve the actual victories, Sandberg has good advice. Of course she’s privileged, of course she’s speaking from a position on “top”. That’s the whole point! I don’t want to know how someone who failed out of middle management recommends organizing my life for success. I want to know how someone who succeeded did it.

    Sandberg wants to lift people up in the midst of what we may consider an inherently exploitative system. I see nothing wrong with that. You may wish she had written a more revolutionary book! That’s nice. While you’re making luxurious calls for revolution, I’ll keep focused on Sandberg’s advice about how to push people up right now, because I don’t see any revolution arriving to sweep away the injustices of capitalism this year and I have babies to feed and bills to pay.

    Sandberg’s advice is also far more revolutionary than most recognize, given how deeply she identifies personal choices about life as political (and economic). And her advice about leaning in is pretty much the opposite of the “just try harder” straw man the critics have erected for her. hooks seems to see all of this, but then she goes down the path of attacking Sandberg’s “whiteness” or “vulnerability” or “faux” feminism. In a word, baloney! This book is not aimed at white women, or at rich women; the fact that people like hooks think it is merely reflects how they too are trapped in this set of false expectations and assumptions about who people are and how they live or want to live. One reason I like this book is precisely that it’s not like most “white” feminism I’ve encountered. What one person sees as discussion of “white” relationships, apparently, another sees as multiculturally relevant.

    I’m also beyond done with people who feel Sandberg’s clothing needs criticism. bell hooks is smart enough that I’m willing to put that aside and listen to what she has to say, but it’s nearly a disqualifying remark. Nothing is wrong with Sandberg’s choice of clothing, only with those who want to criticize it, basically. I wonder if Marx wore shirts that made him look vulnerable. Can the revolution survive it? lol

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  82. karla massey

    November 17, 2013 at 3:00 am

    Wendy Lower writes about the Nazi women who “leaned in” on the Holocaust in her book, Hitler’s Furies.

    Would Sandberg have any moral concern about their success?

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  84. Lydia Namubiru

    November 21, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Black privilege is when you get praise for dismissing the legitimacy of another person’s views or ideas on the grounds that the author is a) white, b)rich, c) works in a corporation d)not as read on a particular subject as you are. Anybody else says this and they are labelled many negative ists including racist.
    I am a black African woman with ambition to get to the c-level of my organisation. I found Sheryl’s book very sisterly and helpful. I don’t know what this Hooks lady is talking about.

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  87. Jamie

    November 25, 2013 at 2:40 am

    I found this review irritating, but I suppose others found Lean In irritating too. While I understand the criticism of the book from the sense that it should not be the guide for change and feminism as a whole, I think it does something important. It gets people thinking and opens up questions for those who are not active within any community that speaks about issues of equality. I think this article looks at what the media and the moneymakers say about it, but not individuals (the everyday non-activist or gender studies expert). Reading this book cause me to think deeply about some things as a 20 something, who in fact never realized that I would be treated differently based on my gender until I entered the workforce. I found this article and have been doing more reading about the issues that were raised (both things I agreed with in Lean In and other things that were skimmed over). I don’t plan to join the “Lean In” community, but I thought of myself and friends who did or experienced some things in the book. I generally think that for individuals that are not within the academic world of feminism, Lean In has started a dialogue many would not have even dared start. Also, the author sounds like she’s just mad that it wasn’t someone like her or others in her world that got the attention. I would say that labeling this as Faux Feminism doesn’t make sense to me. I would go with Feminism for beginners.

    • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

      November 25, 2013 at 9:35 am

      “the author sounds like she’s just mad that it wasn’t someone like her or others in her world that got the attention”

      Ah yes, the “You’re just jealous” argument. Ignorance, thy name is Jamie.

      1. The point that women from marginalised groups (and WOC in particular) have created amazing works that have been roundly ignored, while Sandberg’s mediocre pablum has practically been treated as long-overdue evidence that William Caxton’s little invention might just catch on, has nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with privilege and oppression.

      As a white, cisstraight, able-bodied, neurotypical, wealthy, married (and apparently submissive to her husband), christian(?) American woman she is positively dripping in privilege. She represents a banal, flavourless, vanilla, ersatz feminism designed to do absolutely nothing to challenge the status quo. As my nanna would have said, it’s “all fur coat and no knickers”. While she smiles sweetly and tells men not to worry, that women don’t want to rock the boat, other feminists without her connections or privilege are working hard to dismantle patriarchy, to make the whole world a better place for existing and future women and girls. She’s talking – they’re working. They’re not just focused on the small minority of women working in corporate America, they want to help all women and girls, to bring about epoch-making, paradigm-shifting changes that will pulverise the shackles of patriarchal oppression, while Sandberg smiles sweetly and tells the patriarchy that it’s a perfectly sensible system to live under. They’re ignored, she’s adored, all because of her privilege.

      2. Please do some learning – this is bell hooks. Just go off and read, then feel that embarrassment spreading when you realise what you’ve said to her.

      3. Here’s your ‘Feminism for Beginners’ – “Women and girls are fully human and deserve to be treated as such”. Men don’t like to hear that though, too close to the bone, so they champion someone who tells them “Don’t worry, we still need you to hold our hands and to guide us through life”

      • Jamie

        November 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

        I would say that your very snarky comments are exactly what keeps a lot of women from getting involved in feminist causes. I’m not a scholar and no I did not know who Bell Hooks “is.” Isn’t that the point I was trying to make, that Lean In led me to this website and to read on.

        Maybe in your world knowing about and even challenging gender roles is common, but that is not the world as a whole. It is common in my world for people to think that my ambitions towards career and away from marriage are weird and reading on feminist topics is not the norm. Furthermore, just because I though the article was irritating does not mean that all it said was lost on me.. Also, the “your just jealous” as you put it was a reaction to some specific things said at the very beginning of the article, the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs in particular.

        Honestly, the way you addressed me was very internet troll and just turns me off from listening to what you have to say.

        • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

          November 25, 2013 at 11:26 am

          Jamie – there’s a resource that lets you find information about anything out there. You could have googled ‘bell hooks’ and found out who she was and why she’s critical of Sandberg’s “feminism” before wading straight in and accusing her of petty jealousy, based on a misunderstanding of her critique.

          While looking for information on bell hooks you should also research the “tone argument” and also “logical fallacies”. You know nothing of my world or my situation, you apparently cannot fathom why people might be angry at the constant bowing and scraping at the feet of the patriarchy performed by Sandberg and her ilk.

          You may be considering, for the first time, that expectations of wifedom and motherhood are not where your future lies, good for you, but guess what? There are those of us out here in the world who have been told since day one that we are not allowed to be anybody’s wife, not fit to be anyone’s mother. We haven’t opted out of your world, we were never allowed inside the walls in the first place. You seem to think that this shunning makes things easy for us, that we’ve been given an out, without wondering how and why we ended up here. I can see you want affirmation for trying to break out, but the truth is that Sandberg won’t help with that. Hers is regressive “feminism”, not the progressive kind that people like bell hooks have been creating for decades. She’s bolstering the ‘get married, have kids’ route and then adding the pressures of the corporate world to it. How’s that helping people who can’t even break away from a predefined track to wifedom and motherhood? It’s focusing on a tiny sliver of womanhood, and pretending that the rest of us don’t even exist.

          It’s people like Sandberg that are causing a rejection of feminism, not people like me. I don’t have that power! WOC, women with disabilities, LGB women , trans women, economically-deprived women – they’re fleeing mainstream feminism in droves, have been for years. They’re in the trenches doing the real work, and being ignored or disparaged as the likes of Sandberg walk across their backs on their way to get plaudits for reversing decades of hard graft.

          I wish you could see that and understand the depth of the anger and pain that women are speaking from, empathising with the struggle and standing with them as they fight, but that would involve critical thinking and understanding why women like bell hooks are critical. I guess it’s just easier to write them, to write us, off as jealous nasty trolls.

          The irony is that these women have made real changes in the world, staked a claim for women, and made life better for hundreds of thousands of women and girls. Many of the things you take for granted were made possible by women who literally shed their blood that you might live as a free woman. Will Sandberg be able to improve educational access for minority children? Can she wipe out the number one cause of death for pregnant women? Do yet know what that is? Murder, by their spouse/de facto/partner. Or, instead of enabling women to escape violent men, supporting them on the road to independence, is she just trying to get more Jimmy Choos under the boardroom table?

          Real progress, real results, real tangible freedoms. Where’s their book tour? When will they be invited on the public-speaking circuit? Why should the voice of someone with natural hair or brown skin, a pair of birkenstocks or a female partner, an assistive device or ‘terp, be considered unfit for public consumption? Why should strength, determination and righteous anger be considered so threatening? Sandberg is given a platform because men approve of her neutered, anodyne message, and know that the only change it will invoke is the topic of conversation for the women of the chattering classes.

          Those shedding blood, sweat and tears for real change will remain ignored at best, maligned at worst, because the patriarchy is too scared to give them a voice. They know that if women and girls heard the dark, bitter, unvarnished truth (as opposed to Sandberg’s fairytales) spoken aloud and writ large, there would be mayhem.

          That’s why they are silenced.

          That’s why we are silenced.

          • Jamie

            November 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm

            The primary reason I would consider your comments trolling is because of the name calling and snark that is unnecessary. Making fun of me, calling me ignorant, using sarcasim to put me down behind the safety of your keyboard is trolling. You seem to assume a lot of willful ignorance on my part. I am trying to learn here and I never said that I considered Cheryl Sanberg’s comments the end all, in fact I said the opposite. Reading her book, led me here and to some other reading. I read her book because I was interested in learning about handling myself in the workplace not to learn about feminism, yet it sparked my interest. Reading the book has only caused me to want to learn more and I would say I am just beginning. Reading this article has continued bringing up things I had not previously considered, but I maintain that saying that Lean In has zero value to anyone is not true. My experience is a perfect example. If you want me to say that you are more knowledgable than me, you win, you are. You are right, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so save the insults and try to share what you have to offer without them.

          • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

            November 25, 2013 at 1:18 pm

            Again Jamie, please look up the “tone argument”.

            You know what anger has accomplished? Women’s suffrage, Stonewall, the end of slavery, desegregation, need I go on? What has “leaning in” closer to our oppressors ever gained? Patriarchy needs to be dismantled if equality is to be achieved, not cosied up to and emulated.

            Nobody, myself included, has said that Sandberg’s regressive “feminism” is good for nobody and nothing. It’s great for reassuring white, cisstraight, able-bodied, neurotypical, wealthy, corporate women that they deserve to be where they are. It’s Calvinism for the Chanel-set. It’s great for selling the lie that every woman has a place at the table, even those who aren’t even allowed into the building.

            It’s nobody’s job to coddle you or educate you, you have to put the work in and learn for yourself, like the rest of us. Nobody will hold your hand through discovering what feminism is, what it should be, or what it means for you. You have to do it yourself.

            You got yourself off on the wrong foot for criticising someone without taking one minute to find out who they were. It’s disrespectful.

            Google ‘feminism 101’ ‘derailing for dummies’, ‘womanism’, ‘kyriarchy’, ‘intersectionality’. Find out why ‘Lean In’ is being criticised, realise that what you’ve decided is “trolling” (look that up too, because trolling is not telling someone they’re wrong, nor is it being sarcastic) is actually oppressed people being sick to death of activism being eclipsed by slacktivism, of hard-won struggles for the right to live without fear of poverty, discrimination or abuse, being ignored, while fauxminists proclaim that blouses in the boardroom=freedom and equality.

            Feminism is the realisation that women and girls are fully human, with bodily autonomy, and the right to live outwith the control of a man.

            It’s all of us or none of us, it’s not what your sisters can do for you, not about your needs, desires and feelings, it’s about what you can bring to the table. An executive parking space helps no-one but the executive.

            Read around, go through the archives here at FW, really truly educate yourself. If ‘Lean In’ leads one person to real activism, to being a’feminist’ (noun) instead of ‘feminist’ (adjective) then it is of some value. If just one person realises that the patriarchy and capitalism Sandberg reveres are the very forces keeping women down, then the world will be closer to being a better place.

      • Lydia Namubiru

        November 25, 2013 at 10:31 am

        Yep! Be abusive of those that differ from your perspective and erect monuments to those that echo your beliefs. That always helps your point along.

        • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

          November 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm

          Abusive? Whatever helps you sleep at night, which in your case seems to be white-knighting for people too ignorant to google someone’s name before coming into the comment section of their article to tell them that they’re OMGtotesjellis of Sandberg’s dross, and that the root of their criticism is resentment.

          Tell me, how hard is it to pay someone the bare minimum of respect, i.e. finding out who they are and what they’ve accomplished, before accusing them of being “mad”? How difficult is it to get a person’s name right?

          I’m truly happy that you’ve got so much time to swoop in and defend people who fangirl for Sandberg as if she’s messianic, people who cannot bear to see any critique of their twin-setted republican heroine without rushing to label the lesser mortals as jealous haters, without doing due diligence first. I hope it’s a fulfilling, challenging role for you, and I wish you well in progressing through the ranks.

          I refuse to be ashamed of the truth, of my respect for women who work to make the real world better, and my justified anger that they are belittled, shunned and ignored. The regressives and plagiarists are praised to the hilt for their well-rehearsed patter, while the real activists have been growing grass-roots, watered with blood and fed by bodies, since before I was born.

          Why is it so hard to ask people to educate themselves, to read around fashionista-feminism instead of taking it as gospel and swallowing it wholesale?

          The problem is that too many people think that ‘feminist’ is what they are, instead of what they do. You can’t just read something like Lean In , say “I’m a feminist now!”, and let out a satisfied sigh. ‘Feminist’ is a noun, not an adjective.

          Sandberg’s brand of “feminism” has no relation or relevance to the issues faced on the frontlines. It won’t help tackle poverty, income disparity, lack of childcare, rape, soaring maternal and neonatal deaths in marginalised women, corrective rape of queer women, the abuse and murder of trans women, forced marriage, forced birth, domestic abuse, child abuse, lack of employment rights for certain women, the toxic effects of the male gaze, the abuse and murder of sex-workers, marriage equality, access to education and employment for girls and women with disabilities, etc. Getting more Hermes-clad women into the boardroom won’t do a thing for. their sisters in the trenches.

          Sandberg’s vision is a product of the era of slacktivism. All it does is fill a pretty pink balloon with hot air so that people look up at that, instead of looking down at the bodies piling up around their feet. It’s Soma, panem et circences. a declawed kitten with a bow around it’s neck, gaudy baubles that distract attention away from the truth.

          As someone wise once said:

          “If you’re not angry, you’re not listening”

          As someone even wiser said:

          My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit

          A true feminist (n) of our times who, on account of her vivid, righteous truth-telling and unsanitised exposition, will never be given a platform like “feminist” (a) speakers such as your idol.

          • Jamie

            November 25, 2013 at 1:51 pm

            What you might think is a tone argument isn’t one at all. If you were writing objectively that would make sense. However, you are misplacing anger onto me, calling me names and being condescending by telling me to “google” things. This isn’t tone, it is actual personal insults. Your commentary so clearly has labeled me (see the Reassuring white….OMGtotesjelli comment among others) so why even bother ranting at me. I did not ask for you to hand hold me or to teach me anything. I may not be as knowledgable as you, but I am not going to launch insults and unfounded personal attacks on someone and lift myself up by calling it real Feminism. You aren’t accomplishing anything radical here other than turning me off from engaging in any discussion on the topic. You keep referring to tone argument and logical fallacies, but I’m curious where personal insults and characterization come in. I really to do not want to participate in this conversation anymore if I’m going to be berated so much.

          • Sloth Snuggling Sasquatch

            November 25, 2013 at 2:50 pm

            That comment was not addressed to you, but to Lydia who has been white-knighting for Sandberg hither and thither.

            And back to you, you claim you want to learn, to know more, yes? So I point you to keywords that will turn up the best resources, and you claim that’s mean or something? You want your hand held. It’s not the job of marginalised people to tell you why we deserve to be treated as humans. It’s not our job to hand out plates of cookies and pat people on the back for attaining the minimum standard of human decency.

            The tone argument is saying “Well I would be on your side but you’re OMGsoMEAAAN!” or “You people are so AAAANGRY, I don’t like that, so I won’t listen”

            That is tone-trolling. Sound familiar? It should. You praise someone who pushes regressive slacktivism that bows to the patriarchy and capitalism, you disrespect a woman who has done more for the push for equality than you even seem to understand, and you whine “Why so aaaangry?”

            Why? Let’s see, and this is just what my people are suffering:

            extermination, forced sterilisation, institutionalisation, “corrective” rape, removal of rights and resources, criminalisation, murder, mutilation, denial of the right to marry or have children, demonisation, medical abuse, accusations of crimes against children, literal physical barriers to education/work/leisure pursuits/healthcare, denial of bodily autonomy and integrity, enforced homelessness, denial of the right to free movement and association, denial of the right to be free of/to escape physical, sexual and emotional abuse within relationships, the constant knowledge that the murder of your sisters (across three separate groups) will be at best excused, at worst praised.

            Those are just off the top of my head. Are you saying those experiences wouldn’t make you angry? Or, is it that you have no frame of reference? Surely you are capable of some empathy, but I would bet the farm on getting the response:

            “But what does that have to do with me?”

            Which is the sure and certain clarion call of privilege.

            So I’m out. Some people clearly prefer to be cocooned in soft, fluffy ignorance, they want to be told that their feewings trump the lived experiences of billions of people. Some people can’t look up a name, can’t read a comment section to see if their “point” has already been made,because they’re too sure of their own importance, too sure that their thoughts are so unique and world-changing that they must put them out there to benefit everyone else. They fend off criticism and pushback with accusations of trolling, and then, with a total lack of self-awareness and irony, ask “Y U MAD THO?”

            So here you go- Sandberg is the Christ child, the saviour of humanity. She will bring freedom and equality to the world’s oppressed, with a smile and one of her blue-ribbon apple pies. Time will now be divided into BLI and ALI, this is the year 1 ALI.

            Never again will we need a Malala, a bell, a Tanni, or a Monica, because there is now equal unrestricted access to education, healthcare, housing, employment, and childcare. Sandberg and her capitalist patriarch backers will redistribute the world’s wealth and end income disparity, poverty and starvation. No more war, no more famine, no more haves and have-nots.

            The scales have fallen from mine eyes, hallelujah, LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!